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September 14, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 736

Lebanese Sources Close To Hizbullah: Washington Asks Tehran For Negotiations On Iraq, Afghanistan; Iran Demands Comprehensive Settlement Including Syria, Bahrain; Ahmadinejad To Qatari Emir: If Syria's Attacked, 'The First Missile Will Fall On You'

September 14, 2011 | By A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 736

Introduction

Two Lebanese sources affiliated with Hizbullah – the website of Al-Manar TV and the Lebanese weekly Al-Intiqad – have reported on a September 3, 2011 meeting between Qatari Emir Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Citing French sources, they claimed that the Qatari emir had conveyed to the Iranian president a message from Washington, the main thrust of which was a request by the U.S. for Tehran's consent to the U.S.'s maintaining 15,000 troops in Iraq for another two years, and also a request to Tehran to stop the hostile operations against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al-Manar also reported that Ahmadinejad had explicitly threatened Qatar, and thus implicitly also the U.S., in a discussion of the crisis in Syria, telling him that if Syria was attacked, "the first missile [in retaliation] will fall on you."

The following are the main points of the reports:

Al-Manar reported that the emir arrived in Tehran on September 3, after Tehran had deliberately postponed his visit several times, and that the purpose of the visit was to obtain Iran's consent to "the U.S.'s desire to keep its forces in Iraq for another two years, with Iran's consent or [at least] with its acceptance – which Tehran had previously rejected when the issue was presented by a Saudi emissary,[1] and now it reiterated its rejection, in very harsh terms, to the Qatari emir."

In addition, the Qatari emir requested "on behalf of the Americans, Tehran's cooperation... in reining in the Hizbullah-Iraq Brigades and the Ahl Al-Haqq groups whose operations have caused heavy losses to the U.S. forces [in Iraq]. The emir also relayed a similar American message regarding Afghanistan, that Iran's involvement was crucial in order to stop operations against the U.S. troops [there]."

The report continued: "When the emir raised the issue of Syria, especially [the question of what would happen] the day after President Bashar Al-Assad's fall, the [Iranian] president answered him harsh words, saying, among other things, that '[If Syria is attacked,] the first missile [in retaliation] will fall on you.'"

Al-Manar added, citing the sources, that Iraq-U.S. negotiations were already underway for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and that the negotiations also cover the crises in Syria and Bahrain. According to the sources, Tehran has asked "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to [again] talk with the U.S. about [a clause in the U.S.-Iraq agreement] concerning the maintaining of 15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, whose task will be to secure the U.S. Embassy and to train the Iraqi army..." The sources noted that the issues of "Syria and Bahrain were brought into the negotiations because Iraq had made its consent to keeping U.S. troops [in Iraq] conditional upon the achievement of a just resolution to the Bahraini [crisis], and to the lifting of international and Arab pressure on Syria." Al-Manar reported that the Iraq-U.S. "negotiations are currently proceeding slowly, but will speed up and become more effective this October, because the U.S. will be pressed for time in advance of its withdrawal from Iraq, [which is set for] the end of December 2011 in accordance with its security arrangement with Iraq."

Both the Lebanese sources claimed that Iran had rejected the U.S.'s request for negotiations with Iran, and that the Qatari emir's mission had failed.

Al-Manar reported: "As for the Iranian position, our sources in Paris say that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki will negotiate with the U.S., with Iran's consent and in full coordination with Tehran, which considers [Al-Maliki] to be entirely trustworthy and to be its chief ally in Iraq. The French sources said that the U.S., which is trying to remain in Iraq, will ultimately accept the conditions of Tehran and Baghdad which include the two crises, in Bahrain and in Syria."[2]

Assessment

1) This new and preliminary information, which is uncorroborated, is about an request by the U.S. ostensibly of Tehran, delivered by the Qatari emir, to conduct negotiations with Iran on the issue of the U.S.'s maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq for two more years, and about Iran's using its influence in Afghanistan to rein in hostile operations against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq. According to this information, Iran rejected the request, and warned that its compliance with it would be contingent upon the reaching of a comprehensive settlement that includes also Syria and Bahrain. Al-Intiqad even headlined the article "Details of the Negotiations on a Comprehensive Settlement Including Iraq, Syria and Bahrain."

2) Tehran is demanding that the U.S. arrange for the lifting of the Western and Arab pressure on Assad in Syria, and a "just settlement" for Bahrain that will reflect the Shi'ite majority there.[3]

3) It is apparent that Iran has an interest in having what happened at the meeting leaked by Lebanese mediators and in Arabic, in order to bolster the morale of the Assad loyalists in Lebanon and Syria, while at the same time warning the Gulf countries, chiefly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and indirectly the U.S., that a Western attack on Tehran's ally Syria will have severe repercussions. (It should be mentioned that in its public declarations, Tehran has been calling on the countries of the region to coordinate a joint position on the Syrian crisis, so as to reach an agreed solution that will leave Assad in power).

4) Ahmadinejad's explicit warning that an attack on Syria would lead to war in the region, and that the first missile will fall on the "home" of the Qatari emir – a detail mentioned only in an Iranian report[4] – reflects Iran's efforts to leverage this threat in order to deter the West and the Gulf states from overthrowing the Assad regime. These efforts were also reflected in statements by Sadollah Zarei, a member of the editorial board of the Iranian daily Kayhan, who said at a conference at Tehran's Al-Zahra University that "Syria is not an ordinary country for Iran. It is the kingpin of the resistance [axis] and of the countries opposing Israel. Syria is the geographical focal point of the resistance [axis], and if it falls, the entire resistance [axis] may fall. [So] preserving Syria is [Iran's] supreme strategic goal, and Iran will not rest and will not compromise on this issue."[5]

*A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] No details concerning the identity of the emissary or the date or place of the meeting were mentioned. However, it should be noted that on June 23, 2011 the IranArab network reported that Tehran had refused to receive a Bahraini representative who sought to resolve the crisis with Iran. Tehran set conditions for Saudi Arabia for resolving the crisis that included the resignation of the Bahraini leadership and the dispatch of a Saudi representative to Tehran.

[2] Al-Manar (Lebanon), September 9, 2011; Al-Intiqad (Lebanon), September 10, 2011.

[3] On Iran's defeat by Saudi Arabia in the Bahraini crisis, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 702, "Iran's Defeat in the Bahrain Crisis: A Seminal Event in the Sunni-Shi'ite Conflict," July 4, 2011, Iran's Defeat in the Bahrain Crisis: A Seminal Event in the Sunni-Shi'ite Conflict.

[4] Aftab (Iran), September 12, 2011.

[5] ILNA (Iran), September 9, 2011.

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